Before the explosion of streaming music on phones and downloadable playlists to metaphorical clouds, record stores were once the favorite spot to aimlessly wander for hours. Every level of music nerd could genre-hop and wax poetic with fellow lovers of all things sonic, perusing the aisles of compact discs and vinyl. In 2006 in Brisbane, Australia, within the very walls of an independently owned musical hub, a pair worked alongside one another and soon discovered a kinship and a mutual desire to create.
An Horse, the punk-indie-rock outfit made up of Kate Cooper and Damon Cox, have been recording and releasing music since 2007. With the release of their debut album in 2009, Rearrange Beds, the Aussies drew worldwide attention. The upbeat and unconventional pair caught the ears of the industry, and the band began to tour with the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, Cage the Elephant, Tegan and Sara, and Dashboard Confessional.
With the distinctive lamenting of Cooper’s vocals and guitar riffs alongside the infinite persistence of Cox on the drums, they toured the world several times over. The massive success of their single “Camp Out” even landed them a performance slot on The Late Show with David Letterman, and they quickly found themselves back in the studio.
By 2011, An Horse released their follow-up the, 13-song, anthemic album Walls, which hit the shelves and placed the two back on the road. The opening single, “Dressed Sharply,” fused pulsing, down-tempos which pulled you in with undeniably catchy, up-beat guitar riffs. Met with praise and selected as iTunes Single of the Week, the band played massive shows and festivals like Lollaplooza and SXSW.
But then, the music stopped.
A six-year hiatus followed which had fans and critics fearing the forever disintegration of the An Horse duo. However, in March of 2019, refreshed, ready, and optimistic, Cooper and Cox have returned with a brand-new album, Modern Air, and are eager to play the songs they worked so hard on.
“It was written over a couple of years; we really took our time,” Cooper said. She admitted that it seemed like the band was gone for quite a long time, but from the end of their tour in 2013 to the beginning of working on the new songs, it was really only a matter of a couple of years off.
There was a method to the madness; in fact, a deliberate reason as to why the time off was taken and even necessary.
“I wanted to make a record that I was super proud of,” she said. “I just don’t want to write songs to pay bills; I want to write songs that mean something.” Cooper began with writing demos at home, and after relocating to Montreal from Brisbane, she would send them to Cox so he could make notes and additions. Sending tracks and recordings back and forth digitally proved to be a fulfilling, collaborative process, recording remotely and during in-person practice sessions.
As An Horse rediscovered their unique and dynamic pace, the direction of the new music and the context and content of each song became more and more intentional.
“I tried to write songs that were really positive, because I just see on social media this glamorization of being sad and writing depressed, sad songs. But we only have a short time on this Earth; we should really try to be happy and work hard at that,” she said.
As the band partnered with Lame-O Records, the songs started taking a new direction, not so much in sound, but more specifically in lyrical content and focus.
“It’s much harder [to write these songs], but the reward is much bigger. I didn’t want to get up onstage and sing about my dad dying for the next two years, because that’s really heavy. So I wanted to write songs that were fun and that people would come away from feeling stronger and more empowered.”
Wanting to make the new even better than the former, the band was resolute in working with a team capable of capturing their essential sound in the most perfect way.
“From very early on, we knew that we wanted to work with Mike Sapone, because we’re big fans of a lot of the records he’s made,” said Cooper. Producer, composer, and mixer Sapone has worked with big-name bands Taking Back Sunday and Brand New and has contributed music to major TV shows like Smallville and Sons of Anarchy. “I’m not sure if he’s really worked with a band that sounded like us.”
Starting to feel a bit of pressure, An Horse received push-back and were tempted to just work with someone else. However, the feeling of pressure and expectation was nothing new, and they were not wavering.
“When I decided years ago to just stop, I felt a lot of pressure then, because it was like I was walking away from something that I’d worked really hard on, and it could have been the dumbest idea I’d had, but I didn’t have another option at that point in time.
“When it came around to putting this record out, I thought, ‘I should have done this years ago,’ but I really wasn’t well enough; I wasn’t a happy human being. Not that I was unwell, but I was feeling like sh*t, like everyone does in life. So, I had made peace with the fact that I’ve put out records that aren’t going to make me a rich person, but they’re going to make people happy.”
The pair had waited this long to make the record the right way, the way they wanted. If they had to wait a little while longer to work with Sapone, they would wait.
Finally able to make schedules align, An Horse arrived in New Jersey and recorded at The Barber Shop Studios as well as Sapone Productions in New York.
“Mike was amazing to work with,” she said. “He’s such a sonic architect. It was an awesome experience, and I’m super happy with it.”
Modern Air, named after the inevitibility of technology and wifi that has made its way onto even the farthest reaches of the Earth and sky, is packed with songs that deliver what fans love most about An Horse. Throughout the track list, they dive back into the indie-punk sound with ease as they explore life, love, and relationships with pure, anthemic magnetism.
With the first single release off the album, An Horse chose “This Is A Song” as the gateway back to audiences, proving they are still the same quirky, fun artists here to make songs for the oddballs and the misfits. Boasting opening lyrics, “This is a song/ For all the times you didn’t belong/ And this is a song/ For all the times they got you wrong,” they are embracing their differences rather than fighting them.
“I feel like that in life; I’m just such a weirdo. I don’t think I’m weird, but I know a lot of people think I’m strange, and I meet people when I’m out playing music who are the same. I just wanted to write a song for them to say, ‘F*ck it; it’s cool, man. It’s good to be like us. Don’t worry about the people you went to school with who have 14 children; just do your thing. Your life’s gonna be more interesting.’ When you are feeling like the lady at the bank gave you sh*t for looking the way you do, just put that on her. She works at a bank… Unless, of course, you enjoy working at a bank, in which case you are living your best life, and I’m very happy for you.”
Living her best life is what Cooper is working really hard to do, and while the reward of playing live shows and connecting with fans whom she has affected is unquantifiable, life on tour is rough. Especially for a woman.
“It’s actually brutally hard for me being on tour, and one of the reasons I was ready to play shows again was because there’s a whole lot of women playing shows now. When I was a kid, there were, like, two bands that I could look up to with women in them, and that’s changed so much now, and I’m really happy,” she said.
Hitting the road, often Cooper finds herself the only woman on a lineup in any given city. However, at the time of interview, An Horse was in the middle of touring North America with Australian, all-femme trio Camp Cope, and that has made all the difference.
“We had to dig up some old press, because we just re-released Rearrange Beds, and just the way they built that up ten years ago, it’s so different to how people build it up now. Everything had to say that I was a woman,” she said.
In fact, being classified as a queer band is far less of a limiting qualifier than being labeled a band with a woman.
“Are we labeled a queer band? I’m not sure. To me, it doesn’t play a part. I mean, I know I’m a queer woman; I know that much, but I don’t ever think about it too much beyond the fact that we talk about constantly the fact that we are highly evolved and the chosen people. Right? (laughs)
“I guess we are 50 percent a queer band, but I don’t know if we get labeled that. Probably, but I really don’t pay too much attention to it. I’m just super stoked to be comfortable in my own skin, and if that makes other people comfortable or okay with themselves, then that makes me really happy. I’m just so stoked that I’m gay. Every day, I probably say it to someone,” she said.
As An Horse made a pit-stop at a sold-out Lost Lake Lounge on May 21, the pair looked reinvigorated, sounding tighter than ever. Cooper wailed the new songs with the moshing crowd singing along as she riffed through new and old tracks. Cox’ exploding energy on the drums was infectious, as he banged non-stop for the entire set, all while offering melodic, back-up harmonies. Navigating through a set-list like the pros they are, the duo delivered an unstoppable intensity that even the mile-high altitude couldn’t dampen.
Perhaps it was the six-year break that they needed to find a voice and an air of readiness, or maybe it was simply a reminder that the music they make affects so many in such a positive way. Nevertheless, An Horse are back and more-than-willing to rock your face off. One thing is certain, though; they are doing it with a lot more optimism this time around.
Photos by Veronica L. Holyfield at Lost Lake Lounge 5/21/19